Exclusive: Would-be convert sent home

Filipino farmer falls foul of law that forbids entry to Israel for conversion.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
A 32-year-old Filipino man who came to convert to Judaism was sent back to Manila on Tuesday night after he related his plans to border policemen at Ben-Gurion Airport, officials said. Zol Plemos, a coconut farmer, arrived on Sunday night without a visa. He had been scheduled to begin studies for an Orthodox conversion at Kibbutz Yavne this week, but was held at Ben-Gurion Airport for 48 hours before being put on a flight to the Philippines. An Interior Ministry spokeswoman said on Tuesday the law prohibits entry to Israel for the purpose of conversion, although there is an appeals committee that examines the cases for people already residing in the country. But attorney Isaac Mazuz said it was not a law but an Interior Ministry regulation drafted under the influence of haredi rabbis. "We are always complaining about assimilation and the dwindling number of Jews, and yet when we have opportunities to get them back, we give them up," Mazuz said. An official at Kibbutz Yavne said it had accepted Plemos for conversion studies on condition that all his legal paperwork was in order. The official said the conversion ulpan did not deal with legal or logistic issues involving would-be converts. Plemos, who was raised a Christian, told The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview from the airport that he first became interested in Judaism in college during the 1990s when a professor taught that the foundation of Christianity was Judaism. He subsequently contacted the executive director of the Casa Shalom Institute for Marrano-Anusim Studies at Gan Yavne, Gloria Mound, about five years ago and expressed interest in converting. Mound said that based on Plemos's name, he may be descended from Jews who settled in the Philippines. However, Plemos makes no such claim. Since then, Plemos has been visiting the Web site of Jerusalem's Aish HaTorah Jewish educational network twice a day to pray, Mound said. Plemos decided to forgo a Reform conversion in Hong Kong, instead coming to Israel, where he thought he could get an Orthodox conversion, he said. His attempts to get a three-month tourist visa were thwarted, though, after he told police at passport control that he came to convert. Plemos said he was unsure when he would ever be eligible to reapply for a visa. "This is another example of how badly this country is treating people who want to regain their Jewish identity," Mound said.